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R is for refugee, R is for resilience

R is for refugee, R is for resilience

By Lauri Stewart

Access to Justice Asylum Civil Rights Diversity 


A refugee lawyer explains the need for resilience when dealing with particularly vulnerable clients. I have been an immigration, refugee and human rights lawyer for more than 10 years, both in private and non-profit practice. In addition to the challenges faced by all lawyers – ungrateful and demanding clients and bureaucratic red tape – Australian refugee lawyers work with highly vulnerable clients, many of whom have mental health problems. From being publicly accused of advising clients to self-harm to facilitate their transfer from Nauru, to being called un-Australian on national radio, some days suck for refugee lawyers. However, we are a resilient bunch. We come to work every day expecting a negative decision or bad news. Our clients are often at the office before 9am, anxiously waiting for help or reassurance. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre recently revealed that a man was so desperate for legal advice, he slept on their doorstep. The challenges are endless and the rewards appear few. Nevertheless, we persist. Why is resilience important for refugee lawyers? If we aren’t resilient and persistent our clients lose. Let’s face it – nobody goes into refugee law for the money. We choose this specialty because we have a genuine desire to help people, and to make the world a better place. Being resilient allows lawyers to deal effectively with stress and remain in a job that we enjoy. When we say we care about human rights, we need to make sure that we remember ourselves – our mental health and self-worth. Having experienced lawyers on staff is essential for clients. However, what is perhaps overlooked is that it also provides an immeasurable benefit to organisations and less-experienced co-workers. Experienced lawyers offer a wealth of knowledge, mentoring ability, and overall stability.

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